Self-Intro: Kuniko Yamada McVey


Hello, Japan scholars. I have been a librarian for the Japanese Collection at the Harvard-Yenching Library for five and a half years. I was a librarian at the Documantation Center on Contemporary Japan (DCJ) at Harvard for ten years before coming to Yenching. Before working at the DCJ and before a short interval of two years as a bookbinding student in Boston, I worked at the Museum of Modern Japanese Literature 日本近代文学館 in Tokyo for seven years. I guess some of you guys were born at a time when I was putting up literay exhibitions in Japan.

I encountered following phrase “Shall I at least set my land in order?” by T.S. Eliot while writing my senior thesis at ICU. I liked it and adapted as my motto. In the following year I entered the world of libraries and have resided there for most of the time since. Now I feel we librarians can no longer stay in this orderly world and need to explore this rich and chaotic information universe both physical and virtual. Being one of the “Librarians without borders” is my goal now. I hope I can learn a lot from you at the same time I offer something useful to you for your research.

FYI: I recently discovered the “Kanban jissoku Nihon chizu” (官板実測日本地図) printed in the Bakumatsu period, based on Ino-zu, in our library’s basement. Although our copy is missing one (Ezo) of four sheets that cover all Japan, including Ryukyu and Karahuto,
they are beautiful. If you are interested in taking a look, let me know. They are not cataloged in the collection.


  1. Hi Helen, yes I studied bookbinding at the North Bennet Street School in
    Boston for two years. The world of bookbinding is so deep and rich that
    I barely touched surface. But I have true respect on this world.

  2. Hi Kuniko,
    As a Ph.D. candidate in (Japanese) history I have developed an interest (or rather, deep love) for old manuscripts (in general). This, includes, maps and I would very much like to see “Kanban jissoku Nihon chizu” if possible. How detailed are they?

  3. はじめて御意を得ます









  4. Hi! I am a prospective Japanese History PhD who is currently living in Japan teaching on the JET program, and reading through old Frog in a Well posts. Saw this and just had to mention that I also studied abroad at ICU and loved it there. Maybe I`ll get a chance to work with you in the future. 🙂

  5. Dear Kuniko san,

    It was four years ago that I wrote about Extended Hepburn Romanization system and said that it was the first transliterational system ever proposed. I was wrong. Dr ASAKA`A kwan’ichi (known as Dr. Kan’ichi Asakawa) wrote in his Documents of Iriki published in 1929 at Yale as follows;

    // quote begins

    Our system of writing follows the one that has long since been current in writing in English except in one respect: we have employed “zh” for the sonant for “sh,” and “j” for that of “chi,” instead of using “j” for both, as is generally done. The distinction is always important in the written Japanese; though in speech it is disregarded in the greater part of the country, it is strictly observed in Kyū-shū. “Zh” should be pronounced like “z” and “s” in “azure,” “usual,” and “fusion”; “j” is the same as the English “j” and soft “g.”

    // quote ends

    His method was a precursor of EHS but the residue of transcription method remained for it retained macron-capped letters for long vowels.

    From the transliterational point of view, there is no such things as long vowels in Japanese syllabary. In my opinion, long vowels is an expedient to fold some vowel pairs into a single vowel. In the traditional KANA script vowel pairs were not so abundant because of w or media h, namely the consonant of ha column or wa column. They are no more than a visual marker realized as a bilabial semivowel only when followed by the most open vowel.

    When a pair is composed of the same vowels, they should mostly be construed as two distinctive vowels. But when they are different, some pairs sound as a long vowel due to mutual assimilation.

    Please read

    and related articles at

    Sincerely yours,

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